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about the exhibition

Conceived by contemporary artists Walid Raad and Akram Zaatari working with the archives of the Beirut-based Arab Image Foundation, Mapping Sitting explores how photographic portraits operated in the Arab world over the past century. Raad and Zaatari have devised photo and video installations based on four distinct practices:

  1. identity photos;
  2. the Middle Eastern tradition of photo surprise;
  3. itinerant photography; and
  4. institutional group portrait photography.

Collectively, the images convey the pluralistic and multifaceted communities captured by indigenous photographers—images far different from photos of the region circulating widely in the popular press today. In Mapping Sitting, Raad and Zaatari reveal how Arab portrait photography not only pictured individuals and groups, but also functioned as commodity, luxury item, and adornment. Concentrating on commercial images, the exhibition not only raises questions about portrait photography in the Middle East, but also about portraiture, photography, and visual culture in general.

Mapping Sitting was organized by the Arab Image Foundation and is circulated in the U.S. by the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, and the AIF. The exhibition is made possible in part by the Islamic World Arts Initiative, a program of Arts International generously supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and administered by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Additional support was provided by the New York State Council on the Arts.